Poolish or pouliche was a term created by the French in the 1700s-1800s after the way the Polish made their bread with a "starter". Starters, do make a differences. If you are, like I, a fan of European-styled bread, then use a starter in bread-baking to create that wonderful crumb, crust, aroma, and flavours. Either a complex sourdough starter, or a simple poolish, the complexity of the bread flavour will be enhanced.
I prefer to use weight to volume as weight gives me a rather precise measurement of all the ingredients. During the holiday season, there are lots of inexpensive digital scales or even digital spoon available in supermarket.
- Mix ingredients for the poolish starter with a spoon in a non-reactive bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for at least 36 hours.
- Combine together water, yeast, flour and poolish and let stand for 20 minutes until the water is fully absorbed into the flour. Add the salt and knead at the low speed to disperse the salt all over the dough. Increase the speed and mix until a smooth dough forms.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Proof the dough for about 40 minutes. Remove the dough and place on a lightly-floured board. Pat it down flat and fold four sides over the center to shape it again into a ball. Return the dough into the bowl, cover and let rise another 40 minutes. Repeat the folding and let rise until doubled in size.
- Divide dough into three equal parts. Do not knead the dough if you want a airy loaf. Shape each dough into a baguette by stretching each dough into a rectangles, then folding the bottom and top thirds lengthwise to the center, pinching the seam together and allowing them to rest for 10 minutes. Fold the dough over lengthwise and press the ends together. Roll each dough back and forth to elongate it to the desired length and taper the ends.
- Use perforated baguette pans if available, otherwise place the shaped dough either in the floured folds of a large linen, or a baking sheet dusted with flour. Cover and let rise until slightly under proofed, about 35 minutes. Place a shallow pan in the bottom of the oven and start preheating to 250C/500F. Use tiles or stones on the oven rack. Gently slide the loaves onto the heated baking stone. Pour a cup of very hot water into the water pan. Close the door and bake for 12 minutes. Lower the temperature to 200CT/400F and continue baking the loaves until golden, about 22-25 minutes. Cool them on a rack.